The composer failed to draw upon the riches of folk melody, the songs and dance tunes that are to be found in such abundance among the peoples of the USSR in general, and in particular among the peoples of the North Caucasus, where the action of the opera takes place.
In pursuit of a false “originality”, the composer Muradeli has neglected the best traditions and experience of classical opera in general, and in particular Russian classical opera, which is distinguished by its richness of content, the variety of its melodies, the breadth of its range, its national character and its graceful, beautiful and lucid musical form – this is what has made Russian opera the finest in the world, a musical genre accessible to a wide audience and much loved.
The plot of the opera is historically incorrect, a fabrication: it pretends to portray the struggle for the establishment of Soviet power, and of friendship among the peoples, in the North Caucasus from 1918 to 1930. The opera creates the false impression that the peoples of the Caucasus such as the Georgians and Ossetians were at that time enemies of the Russian people. This is historically false, for it was the Ingush and the Chechens who were a hindrance to the establishment of friendship among the peoples in the North Caucasus at that time.
The Central Committee believes that the failure of the opera results from the false path of formalism that comrade Muradeli has chosen – a path that brings ruin upon the creative work of Soviet composers.
As the meeting of Soviet musicians in the Central Committee has shown, the failure of Muradeli’s opera is not an isolated case; on the contrary, it is closely connected to the present unhappy state of Soviet music, with the spread of the formalist trend among the ranks of composers.
As early as 1936, with the appearance of D. Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, the Central Committee, through its organ Pravda, provided a clear formulation of the demands made by the Soviet people with respect to opera.
And yet no reconstruction has taken place in Soviet music, in spite of these warnings, and contrary to the directions given by the Central Committee in the following resolutions: “On the Journals Zvezda [The Star] and Leningrad”, “On the Film The Great Life”, and “On the Repertoire of the Drama Theatres and How it can be Improved”. This is the situation at large, notwithstanding the individual successes enjoyed by some Soviet composers, whose new songs have gained widespread recognition among the people.
Things are especially bad where symphonic and operatic works are concerned: here we find composers who are devoted to this anti-social formalist trend. The trend has found its fullest expression in the work of such composers as comrades D. Shostakovich, S. Prokofiev, A. Khachaturian, V. Shebalin, G. Popov, and N. Miaskovsky, whose music displays most strikingly these formalist perversions and undemocratic tendencies so alien to the Soviet people and their artistic tastes. This music is characterised by the negation of the chief principles of classical music, by the preaching of atonality, dissonance and disharmony, all of which are supposedly signs of “progress” and “innovation” in the development of musical form. These composers reject the essential foundations of the musical work, such as melody; instead, they take delight in chaotic and neurotic sonorities, turning music into cacophony, an anarchic piling-up of sounds. This music strongly suggests the spirit of present-day bourgeois music in Europe and America, music that reflects the dementia of bourgeois culture; this is a complete negation of musical art, a dead end.
Another unfailing sign of the formalist trend is the rejection of polyphonic music, which is based on the simultaneous development of independent melodic lines. This rejection shows how these composers have become obsessed with the monotony of unison lines, often sung without words, all in violation of the polyphonic musical culture characteristic of our people. The result is the further impoverishment and decline of music.
Many Soviet composers, in pursuit of a misconceived notion of “innovation”, have removed themselves from the artistic tastes and demands of the Soviet people. These composers flout the best traditions of Russian and Western classical music; they reject those traditions as “antiquated”, “old-fashioned”, and “conservative”, and they arrogantly persecute those composers who have made a conscientious attempt to assimilate and develop the devices of classical music, calling them “primitive traditionalists” and “epigones”. Having closeted themselves in a tight circle of specialists and musical epicures, they have diminished the exalted role of music in society – they see music functioning merely to satisfy the perverted tastes of individualistic aesthetes.
The formalist trend in Soviet music has instilled in some Soviet composers a monomania for purely instrumental music with complex symphonic forms; consequently, they neglect such musical genres as opera, choral music, vocal ensembles, popular music for folk-instrument ensembles, etc. All this inevitably leads to a fundamental loss in vocal culture and dramatic mastery; composers are unlearning the skill of writing for the people – this is evident from the fact that not a single recent Soviet opera brooks comparison with the classics of Russian opera.
Some Soviet composers are so detached from the people that the rot of a certain “theory” has set in among many of them: according to this, the lack of understanding people show towards the music of many Soviet composers is explained by saying that the people, supposedly, have not yet “grown up” sufficiently to appreciate this complex music, but that they will come to understand it in a few hundred years time. Accordingly, for them, the present-day failure of some musical works to attract any audience is no cause for embarrassment. Such a theory is wholly individualistic and utterly anti-social; it has caused some composers to cut themselves off from the people all the more completely, removing themselves from the criticisms of Soviet public opinion, and shutting themselves away in their own shells.
The cultivation of such an outlook does the greatest harm to Soviet music. To tolerate such an outlook is to allow the spread of alien tendencies among Soviet musicians, tendencies leading to a dead end in the development of music, towards the liquidation of the art.
The pernicious and anti-social formalist trend in Soviet music also exercises its baneful influence on the training of young composers in our conservatories, above all in Moscow Conservatory, where, under the direction of V. Shebalin, the formalist trend dominates. Students are not being taught to respect the best traditions of Russian and Western classical music, or to love folk music and democratic musical forms. The work of many conservatory graduates blindly follows the example set by D. Shostakovich, S. Prokofiev, and the like.
The Central Committee maintains that the state of Soviet music criticism is utterly intolerable. The leading ranks of critics are occupied by those who support decadent formalism and oppose Russian realism. These critics proclaim each new work by Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Miaskovsky or Shebalin to be “a new triumph for Soviet music”; in these works they glorify subjectivism, constructivism, extreme individualism and elitist complications – the very things that they should submit to critical scrutiny. Instead of rebutting harmful views and theories alien to the principles of socialist realism, these music critics spread them further when they praise the “advanced” composers who display such false creative principles in their work.
Music criticism has ceased to express the opinion of the Soviet public, of the people; instead, it has become a mouthpiece for certain individual composers. Some critics abandon principled and objective criticism, and due to personal ties, they seek to oblige various leading figures in music, cringing before them and extolling their work in every way.
These matters force us to conclude that the remnants of bourgeois ideology have not been purged form the work of Soviet composers; this work has been fed, rather, by the influence of decadent West-European and American music.
The Central Committee considers that this unhappy situation on the musical front results from the incorrect line taken by the Committee for Artistic Affairs of the USSR Council of Ministers (Comrade Khrapchenko) and by the Organisational Committee of the Union of Soviet Composers (Comrade Khachaturian). These bodies have effectively given succour to the formalist trend that is so alien to the Soviet people; instead, they should have developed the realist trend in Soviet music – this is based on the extremely progressive role of the classical heritage, especially the traditions of the Russian school. They should have drawn from this heritage and developed it further, combining their music with the characteristics of this heritage: rich content and artistically perfect form, truthfulness and realism, a deep organic connection with the people and their music, and a high degree of professional mastery conjoined with simplicity and accessibility.
The Organisational Committee of the Union of Soviet Composers has been transformed into a weapon of the formalist composers; now it is the principal hothouse for the cultivating of formalist perversions. A stuffy atmosphere has been created in the OrgCommittee; creative discussion is absent. The leaders of the OrgCommittee and the musicologists grouped around them praise works of unrealistic modernism that merit no support; but where a work is distinguished by its realism, where it strives to continue and develop the classical heritage, they ignore it, or brand it second-rate and persecute it. Those composers who take a haughty pride in their “innovations” and “arch-revolutionary stance” in the context of music, are found to support the most backward and stuffy conservatism in their activities as members of the OrgCommittee, revealing an arrogant intolerance of the slightest criticisms.
The Central Committee considers that it can no longer tolerate the situation in the Committee for Artistic Affairs of the Soviet Council of Ministers and in the Organisational Committee of the Union of Soviet Composers, nor the attitude of these bodies to the tasks of Soviet music; they are most injurious to the development of Soviet music. In recent years, the Soviet people’s cultural demands and level of artistic taste have risen to an extraordinary degree. The Soviet people expect composers to produce high-quality and ideologically solid works in every genre – in opera, symphonic music, song, and in choral and dance music. In our country, composers are provided with unlimited creative opportunities and all necessary conditions are created for a genuine flourishing of musical culture. Soviet composers have an audience that no composers of the past ever enjoyed. It would be unforgivable if they did not avail themselves of these rich opportunities, or if they failed to direct all their efforts along the path of realism.
The Central Committee resolves:
1.To condemn the formalist trend in Soviet music as anti-social, and leading to the liquidation of music.
2.To propose to the Propaganda and Agitation Board of the Central Committee and to the Committee for Artistic Affairs: that they rectify the situation in Soviet music; that they liquidate the failures indicated in the present Resolution; and that they take steps to ensure that Soviet music develops in a realist direction.
3.To call upon Soviet composers to carry out the high demands made by the Soviet people regarding musical creation; everything that weakens our music and hinders its development should be swept away by composers, thereby ensuring an upsurge of creative work that would move Soviet music forward and lead, in all areas of composition, to the kind of valuable, high-quality works that the Soviet people deserve.
4.To approve all administrative measures of the responsible Party and Soviet organs directed towards the improvement of musical affairs.
Reprinted with permission from Newly Translated Source Documents, programme booklet for the symposium “Music and Dictatorship: Russia Under Stalin”, Carnegie Hall, New York, 22 February 2003, in a translation by Jonathan Walker and Marina Frolova-Walker.
Editor’s Note: This document was published on page 1 of Pravda on 11 February 1948, page 1 of Sovetskoe iskusstvo on 14 February 1948, and at the front of the January – February 1948 issue of Sovetskaia muzyka.